Onboard Octantis, Viking Cruises is Hiding an Educational Speakeasyby Brittany Chrusciel /
What would a speakeasy-style bar and lounge look like on a research vessel? Wonder no more. “The Hide” is a space on Viking’s expedition-style cruise ship, Viking Octantis, that’s intentionally under-advertised to guests. The idea is that it’s more of a word-of-mouth space that takes the idea of exploration and applies it to the ship itself.
You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the red jacket on the wall; original memorabilia was donated by Viking Octantis’ godmother, Liv Arnesen, to decorate the space. Arnesen is an accomplished skier and explorer from Norway who was the first woman to ski solo and unsupported to the South Pole and among the first women to ski across Antarctica. Once inside the steel door, you’ll see her boots, compass, shovel, mittens, goggles and other items used during her expeditions.
A series called “Arctic Belonging” complements the objects, which is composed of a series of realistic sketches of woolen hats, socks and sweaters from Norwegian artist Hanne Lydia Opoien Figenschou.
Situated deep within the bow of the ship, The Hide is intended to be reminiscent of the rustic wooden cabins that would provide comfort to explorers of yore with shelter from the elements. During the day it’s a quiet space, dark but with a series of angled floor-to-ceiling windows on each side (and surprisingly strong Wi-Fi; not quite something those explorers had access to). But by night, it becomes a place for amber liquids and adventurous tales.
Snuck into the Viking daily program might be mention of Storytelling at The Hide, which takes place on select evenings at 9 p.m. The true inspiration behind these gatherings is to preserve the Norwegian tradition of oral storytelling, strong within the explorer community, by inviting various members of the ship’s expedition crew to share their wildest stories and discoveries with their fellow cruise passengers.
From Norse mythology to fairytales and folk tales, the practice of telling stories around the fire is an ancient one. In Norway’s culture, oral storytelling has morphed from an exercise in survival — don’t eat those berries — into an art.
On the night we visited, Emily Cunningham, a marine biologist and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, regaled us with stories about her eight-month residency on Ascension Island, a volcanic island and British territory located 1,000 miles from Africa and 1,400 miles from South America — so, the middle of nowhere. The local government wanted to track its sea turtle population, and so Emily spent day and night counting turtle tracks, measuring the temperature of their nests (the temperature determines the sex), and redirecting disoriented turtles back into the water; no easy feat as they weigh about 550 lbs.
The fireside chats, so to speak, are an informal way of sharing the fascinating professional and personal experiences of the staff onboard, in a more casual setting than the lecture hall. The audience was rapt, and a selection of bourbon and whisky from a cart in the front of the room likely helped lull guests into an engrossed trance. Late-comers were ushered into the limited seating by crew stationed near the door.
Only a selection of spirits is available from the two-page, leather-bound menu in The Hide, but elaborate cocktails wouldn’t quite fit the simplicity of the space otherwise. To truly get into the Norwegian spirit, try Norway’s favorite spirit, Aquavit.
Part of the charm of The Hide is the encouragement to discover it on your own. But if you’d like to cheat a bit — and we won’t judge you — the easiest way to access the space is by walking all the way forward across either Deck 3 or Deck 5, and then heading down the stairwell to Deck 1.
The near-identical Viking Polaris (meaning “north star” as opposed to Octantis, which is “south star”) is scheduled to set sail on its inaugural cruise on September 29, 2022, from Amsterdam to Ushuaia. Polaris will have its own Hide, containing stories passed between travelers, tucked into the bow of a ship that will chart new adventures for all its passengers.